Pozole is made from field or dent corn that’s been treated with calcium hydroxide, aka slake lime or pickling lime, which softens the skin and makes this corn cookable (a process called nixtamalization). It also results in a unique flavor, the flavor of genuine corn tortillas. This corn also has a wonderfully dense bite and is especially nutritious, as the process releases the corn’s niacin, a B vitamin. This corn, here called hominy, can be found canned in Mexican markets and most large grocery stores. Dried hominy is harder to find. I recommend the online source Rancho Gordo, a Napa-based company selling organic heirloom beans and other Mexican products; they also sell to various markets throughout the country.
But clearly this corn is making inroads into our culture. In need of dried hominy and caught short at the last minute in Providence, Rhode Island, where I live part-time, a friend connected me with Jake Rojas, a chef who runs a popular taco joint here, Tallulah’s Taqueria. He did indeed have some dried corn, which his restaurant cooks and grinds into masa. In fact, he had four varieties, one of which came from a local farmer who grew it from seed for Rojas, who had brought it back from Oaxaca, Mexico.
Not only did he have dried corn, but he also had the pickling lime with which to nixtamalize it. And so came another lesson for me by a chance encounter. (See the instructions following the pozole if you want to try it yourself—highly recommended.)
I include a version of pozole here because it’s one of my favorite dishes but also because it seems a fitting end to a chapter that begins with Valencian rice, another cereal from the same plant family, poaceae, the grasses.
I confirmed this fact with my dear friend Andrew Swanson, a biologist who works for the New Jersey–based vertical farming company AeroFarms. Noting that these two grasses diverged 50 to 70 million years ago and that one was domesticated in Central America and the other in East Asia, the other side of the world, just ten thousand years ago, he added: “Culinary fusions are fun, aren’t they? I always get a kick out of the fact that pasta from Asia and tomatoes from South America combined into Now, that’s Italian!”
And so it goes in our constantly growing and blending culinary world. But without further ado, I present a green pozole using tomatillos and green chili powder from the American southwest. I like this as a vegetarian dish, but feel free to use chicken stock if you wish (and for a red pozole that uses pork). And if you can’t find green chili powder, feel free to use a red one (the tomatillos are what makes the sauce green). Or a mix of toasted ground Mexican chiles, such as ancho and guajillo.
Combine the soaked hominy, quartered onion, carrots, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt in a pot and cover with about 3 inches/8 centimeters of water. Simmer till the corn is tender, 1 to 2 hours. Toward the end of the cooking, taste and add more salt till the water tastes pleasantly seasoned. Remove and discard the vegetables and bay leaves. You should have just enough cooking broth to come up to the level of the corn. If you’re not planning to use it right away, allow the hominy to come to room temperature. Refrigerate it in its cooking liquid, covered, until ready to make the pozole.
In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the diced onion and 1 teaspoon salt, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
Meanwhile, toss the garlic cloves, tomatillos, and all the chiles on a rimmed baking sheet with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Put them under the broiler, close to the heat, and broil until they are charred, about 10 minutes, depending on your broiler. Remove from the oven. Cut the stems from the poblano and serrano chiles and remove their seeds. Remove the stems from the jalapeños but leave the seeds for some heat. Put all the charred vegetables in a blender and puree. Taste the puree. Depending on the chiles you’ve used, it might be mild or spicy. If it is very spicy, then use it to taste; you can add tomato or more tomatillos if you want to make it milder.
Add the hominy and enough of the cooking liquid to make a thick soup-like composition, or all of it if you wish. Add the onion and tomatillo puree and bring to a simmer. Add the oregano and black pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding water if the level of liquid goes below the hominy.
Garnish with plenty of cilantro and serve with crispy tortillas.
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